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Budget Spotlight 2015: Put The Money Where It Should Be


The State Budget reflects our collective priorities for the use of state resources. The investments this document makes, and those it forgoes, play a vital role in addressing our society's current needs and steering its future. As such, the anti-poverty community is unified in one message: Put The Money Where It Should Be. 


Preventing and reducing poverty is essential to the well-being of our entire state, and it must be a clear priority in the state budget. This special series will dive into the details of where the state budget has been falling short of this imperative, and what investments are needed to reverse the course and provide a truly balanced budget for all New Jersey residents.


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  • 15 Apr 2015 12:42 PM | Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey (Administrator)

    t's spring (finally). In Trenton, that can only mean the scramble for dollars to meet the budget deadline is heating up - and to make the numbers work money that isn't constitutionally dedicated could soon be magically flowing into the General Fund.


    This budgetary funny business of raiding dedicated funds affects both parties. During the McGreevey years, the most egregious examples were the raids of historic tobacco settlements of billions of dollars. And let us not forget that the 1995 to 2005 raids of the state's unemployment insurance funds totaling more than $4 billion were a bipartisan affair.


    The bluster from the Christie Administration would make it seem like the governor's budgets are above these shenanigans. In fact, the first four budgets of the Christie Administration relied more heavily on one-shot revenue fixes than the four budgets under the Corzine Administration - and leaned more heavily on dedicated fund raids. This year's proposed budget looks like more of the same - but the funding raids especially hit environmental and public health causes. Here's a quick hit-list of the real world impact of these ongoing raids:

    Woman caulking to weatherproof

    • The Big Kahuna: More than a $1 billion ratepayer dollars, earmarked for energy efficiency and clean energy projects, has already been raided by the Christie Administration over the last five fiscal years (not including this year). It's the repeated target for budget-filling dollars from the Front Office and legislators. The consequence? This snowballing trend has become the perfect crime of budget politics. The initial raids meant that energy efficiency companies cut way back on weatherization programs for home-owners, laying off staff who they had recently hired. Some even went out of business. Now with less of a constituency, the FY16 budget continues the trend, with $66 million of Clean Energy Funds diverted to NJ Transit. But just in case you thought one wrong makes a right...
    • I've Got a Ticket to Ride?: The raids to NJ Transit funding has been painfully obvious. The state contribution to NJ Transit in 2009 was $348 million. The current FY16 budget has only $33 million coming from state funding. The budget includes funds raided from the Clean Energy Fund and $295 million from the Turnpike Authority that was supposed to be dedicated to the cancelled ARC tunnel. Instead of nearing completion of additional capacity in and out of New York, commuters are stuck with 100-year old infrastructure. And the worst part? All NJTransit commuters are about to get stuck with the news of another likely fare hike in the next few weeks. 
    • A Toxic Scourge: More than 5,000 New Jersey children suffer from lead poisoning. This is a scourge for our state, especially in urban communities, and it's the epitome of environmental injustice. We have the capacity to remediate this problem through our existing state program to fund lead abatement.  Sadly, that program is nearly moribund because of continuous budget raids over the last decade. Up to $14 million should be dedicated in this year's budget from sales tax revenue. Instead, the Christie Administration has consistently raided the lead abatement funding, and proposes to again this year (although the Legislature is taking action).

    And that's not even addressing the redirection of $175 million of the preposterously low Exxon settlement to flow straight into the General Fund as opposed to environmental restoration. Or the $288 million from the Passaic River restoration settlement, that you guessed it, didn't go to restore the Passaic.


    This shouldn't be that hard. We shouldn't need to create a constitutional amendment for every dedicated fund. We should put the money where it should be.


    Follow Doug on Twitter at @DougOMalleyENJ.

  • 13 Apr 2015 12:00 PM | Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey (Administrator)

    We all know that one of the best anti-poverty tools available is a robust, growing economy that offers well-paid jobs to those who need them. In New Jersey, approaching full employment would work wonders for direct poverty reduction, while swelling the state’s coffers with new tax revenue, which would help pay for vital services to reach those left behind and shore up supports to help lift low-income families into the middle class.


    We also know that everyone wants to grow New Jersey’s economy. But the single-minded emphasis on cutting taxes for businesses and offering corporations billions in future tax breaks to repair the devastation of the Great Recession has not worked. Our leaders promise us that the math equation is simple: Tax Cuts + Tax Breaks = More Jobs and Greater Prosperity. But in reality, this equation doesn’t add up.

    • The 2016 budget will complete a five-year phase-in of billions in business tax cuts. The bill so far: $1.7 billion and growing. And every single year moving forward, New Jersey will lose about $660 million in revenue that could instead be put to good use helping to increase economic opportunities and provide greater economic security for those who need it most.
    • On top of those billions in tax cuts, New Jersey continues to be in the midst of an unprecedented and record-setting surge in business tax breaks. Since January 2010, New Jersey has OK’ed $5.2 billion in these special deals - $2 billion in 2014 alone. As a comparison, over the entire previous decade, the state only approved $1.2 billion in these tax breaks.
    • These tax breaks have also gotten much more generous, with the state offering more in tax breaks for corporations to do less. For example, each job promised by companies approved for tax breaks in 2014 was worth $79,000 in taxpayer dollars. That’s over four times higher than it was just five years before in 2009, when each job was worth just $18,000. 

    Where has all this tax cutting and subsidy offering gotten us? Hardly anywhere:

    • New Jersey has only recovered 64 percent of the jobs it lost in the Great Recession, far less than the nation as a whole (132 percent) and our neighbors in New York (244 percent) and Pennsylvania (106 percent). 
    • As a result of our lagging job growth, state tax revenue is also falling behind. New Jersey’s revenue is still 11.4 percent less than it was before the recession, the sixth worst performance of the 50 states
    • Meanwhile, New Jersey families are feeling the pinch. New Jersey was one of only three states that saw an increase in poverty in 2013, our middle class continues to shrink and personal income growth is slower than most other states. 

    As Serena pointed out in the blog introducing this series saying that budgets are about priorities is a pretty well-worn cliché. But it’s also true. And when it comes to tax cuts and tax breaks, it’s important to remember that by losing revenue to tax cuts, we are making it that much harder to pay for important working- and middle-class priorities.


    If these kinds of tax cuts had any economic merit as actual creators of good jobs and drivers of growth, that’d be one thing. But decades of experience has shown that they clearly don’t, and so all that New Jersey is receiving in return is a diminishing ability to invest in the public assets that are proven to build a strong economy for all New Jerseyans. It’s high time for lawmakers to rethink this strategy and work to create an economy – and a budget – that works for all New Jerseyans. Put the money where it should be.


    By Jon Whiten, Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective

  • 08 Apr 2015 1:08 PM | Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey (Administrator)

    Every year around this time I hear the same well-worn phrase. “The state budget is about priorities.”  This statement is so familiar that it has lost its impact, maybe even its meaning, for those who perform the annual budget dance. Priorities is not a word that evokes urgency or a sense of shared destiny. It feels neutral from over-use.


    But the concept of priorities is actually central to basic American values like fairness, community, and opportunity. Priorities really means fairness – it means that we can’t let the investment of our state’s resources get skewed to disproportionately benefit the powerful.  Priorities really means community – it means that state investments must respond to urgent needs that are hurting our neighborhoods and our neighbors. Priorities really means opportunity – it means that the state needs to partner with its greatest resource, its people, to make sure that everyone has a chance to more than just survive. Only that way can we all thrive together.


    As the Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, I see the needs side of this equation every day. I see that poverty is rising in New Jersey while the rest of the nation is recovering. I see that desperately needed programs are getting squeezed every year to do more with less. I see an economy that is not bouncing back like our neighboring states, and I see how that hurts us all. When I look at the state budget, I also see misplaced priorities that have funneled billions for unprecedented and expensive corporate tax subsidies while commitments to residents, homeowners, community providers, and our most vulnerable residents are broken.


    But the good news is that we can change course. Our state leaders make decisions each Spring about what resources the state needs and how to invest them. These decisions are not easy, but neither are they a shot in the dark with no light of evidence to guide them. We know a lot about what the budget should do.


    On one hand, we know the consequences of underinvestment that has weakened our state. We know that flat-funding and disinvestment in vital programs means not only desperate sacrifices for hundreds of thousands of residents who are living in poverty. It also means the loss of opportunity to funnel money back into the local economy, with consequences for everyone. On the other hand, we know what programs are effective in meeting the needs of our people: proven programs that address basic needs like homes people can afford, consistent access to nutritious food, and resources that empower people to meet their own needs.


    Over then next seven weeks members of the Anti-Poverty Network will be offering specific and detailed analysis of these investments, as well as the problems in current state budget trends. We will be presenting these perspectives as variations on a single theme: "Put the money where it should be. We invite you to explore the information and perspectives we have to offer about the priorities the state budget should reflect. And we hope you will join the conversation. After all, the state’s budget really should reflect the priorities of its people. It should reflect priorities that put the money where it should be.


    by Serena Rice, Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey



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